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It’s Not How They Grow Up, But How They Grow Out: Brand Stretch and the Peter Pan Millennial Generation

Posted by: Hugh Tallents on September 12, 2012


Generation Y, the Trophy Generation, Echo Boomers, the MTV Generation. Millennials have been labeled in ways as diverse as their political outlook in recent years, but none of the titles give more insight into how to manage and harness the power of this group than the moniker of “The Peter Pan” generation.

On the face of it this group of 80m+ Americans, born between 1983 and 2001 (per Elwood Carlson) is awash with confusing contradictions. This is a group that believes it should be rewarded, not just for winning, but for playing at all. They exhibit a deep sense of community but only 35% keep up to date with political affairs (University of Michigan, Monitoring of the Future study). They have the highest expectations of their role in the workplace while facing the highest unemployment levels in over a decade. They want to be constantly challenged but rarely display the desire to stick to any task for more than 18 months or so. In fact there is a pretty high chance that most of them have already stopped reading this blog post by now.

There is a temptation to dismiss this group as confused, untamable and entitled but that would be to the significant detriment of American business.

What unites the great growth stories in recent US business is how ably these businesses have harnessed the characteristics of the Peter Pan generation to create massive success. Businesses like Google, Facebook and even IBM have achieved unheard of scale, IPO’d quickly (in some cases) and recognized huge value by ensuring that the hunger for community, participation, access and variety was met.

Where this generation is well placed to outstrip its predecessors is in that difficult second act. One thing that most of our clients accept is that to be relevant and profitable in future, they will need to partner effectively and extend their brand and business beyond their core offering. The millennial mindset is one that craves that diversification; it requires it to continue to be challenged. They are redefining the meaning of Peter Pan by refusing to grow up but demanding to grow out at the same time.

The millennial mindset makes leaps, takes risks and embraces ideas because idea based companies afford them the room and flexibility to grow and make an impact. It is no surprise that Google was the most preferred future employer of 18% of Millennials surveyed (source: Millennial Inc.). When they were asked “Why Google?” the answer wasn’t pay or prestige but because they felt “their ideas would make an impact there.” The brands that stand for ideas rather than products will be the ones that attract the greatest talent pool of millennials. The ones that give them an environment where they can be impactful quickly will drive their business in new directions and open up greenfields to drive choice, loyalty and charge price premiums.

To do that, companies need to ensure that their core brand idea is well crafted and well understood internally. They need clarity and commitment from senior executives to ensuring the vision is intimately and explicitly linked to business decision making. Most of all, they require the responsiveness to ensure that their employees are heard and recognized at whatever level for their ideas because now, more than ever the Peter Pan Generation are motivated and have the means, role models and wherewithal to fly away and make it on their own.

Hugh Tallents is a Strategy Director at Interbrand New York. He is not a Millennial, but sometimes acts like one when it suits him.

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